Although consumers are increasingly cutting the cord and opting for streaming services, there are many others who still prefer satellite television service. And in that space, there are two big players: Dish and DirecTV.
Of course, both Dish and DirecTV argue they have the best service, the most channels and the best content. And they both stake claim to extras, like high-end DVRs or streaming.
But rather than take their word for it, we compared both services head to head to decide once and for all which satellite TV provider is really best.
Channels and Packages
DirecTV, now owned by AT&T, offers a host of packages to consider. And they all offer different options.
Here’s a breakdown of DirecTV’s Packaging:
1. Select All: 150+ channels starting at $50 per month.
2. Entertainment All: 155+ channels at $55 per month.
3. Choice All: 185+ channels at $60 per month.
4. Xtra All: 230+ channels at $70 per month.
5. Ultimate All: 245+ channels at $75 per month.
6. Premier All: 325+ channels at $125 per month.
It’s important to note that these packages are based on 24-month commitments. And the pricing is good for 12 months. Your second-year pricing will jump to $90 per month to $187 per month, depending on the plan you choose. Note that this pricing includes monthly equipment fees, including the fee you pay for your DVR.
Like DirecTV, Dish offers a host of package options that vary by price and number of channels. Here’s a look at Dish’s pricing options:
1. America's Top 20: 190 channels at $50 per month
2. America's Top 120+: 190+ channels at $60 per month
3. America's Top 200+: 240+ channels at $70 per month
4. America's Top 250+: 290+ channels at $80 per month
Again, there’s more than meets the eye here. All of the options come with a free Amazon Echo Dot (a $50 value), as well as access to NFL RedZone and NFL Network for a limited time. The prices are guaranteed for two years on a two-year contract, but will jump to between $70 per month and $95 per month after the introductory period.
Winner: Dish. While it might not have as many channels as DirecTV at the top of the range, its pricing is much better and is available for two years rather than one.
DirecTV’s biggest exclusive — and a major advantage over Dish — is NFL Sunday Ticket. With that service, which costs $281.94 per season, you can watch every NFL game from the comfort of your home. It’ll also work on your laptop, tablet, smartphone or game console. DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket option also includes Fantasy Zone and the Red Zone Channel.
DirecTV’s other big advantage is its AT&T relationship. If you’re already an AT&T unlimited plan holder, for instance, you’ll be able to save $25 on your monthly bill by bundling it with DirecTV.
Additionally, AT&T has launched a streaming service, called DirecTV Now, that allows you to access live and on-demand content. You don’t even need to be a DirecTV customer to access the content on that service, but we didn’t love DirecTV Now in our review.
Dish doesn’t have NFL Sunday Ticket, but it does have some of the more compelling DVR technologies on the market.
Chief among those technologies is the Hopper 3. The DVR allows you to watch and record up 16 shows at the same time, doubling that of the DVR technology you’d find from DirecTV.
Hopper 3 also comes with a remote-finder feature, and can be used with your voice to create commands using Amazon Alexa.
But arguably, the most impressive feature is the ability to automatically skip commercials in select prime-time show recordings. You simply tap a button and you’re on to the show.
It’s also worth noting that Dish owns Sling TV, a streaming video service that lets you access and watch live and on-demand programming. Dish does not, however, offer any special bundles or packages with Sling TV service included.
Winner: Draw. It all comes back to what you’re looking for in a service. If you’re more interested in football or you’re an AT&T customer, DirecTV is a better bet. But if you’re a heavy DVR user, Dish will be your best friend.
Dish offers a nice slate of 4K programming, but doesn’t actually list the titles it offers. Instead, the company simply offers access to 4K from several sources, including The Orchard, Mance Media, NBCUniversal and Netflix.
Dish also offers special broadcasts in 4K, including pay-per-view events like Bellator. Planet Earth II was also broadcast live in 4K.
When it comes to 4K content, DirecTV offers an ample amount. The company doesn’t say specifically how much 4K content it has regarding hours of programming, but it offers two channels — 104 and 106 — that offer everything from documentaries to movies to original series in 4K.
Additionally, you’ll find live sporting events in 4K, including Major League Baseball games and UFC fights.
Winner: Draw: Neither company can pinpoint exactly how much 4K programming they offer, and much of what they do is overlap. Suffice it to say, you’ll find ample 4K content from either company.
DirecTV subscribers can opt for the Genie, an HD DVR system that lets you record up to five programs at once. It also includes enough storage for you to record up to 200 hours of programming without losing any content.
Additionally, DirecTV offers a feature that lets you stream select shows that have aired in the last three days with a tool called DirecTV 72 Hour Rewind. You can also restart live shows with a Restart button.
The Hopper 3 is Dish’s answer to DirecTV’s Genie. And it’s more impressive.
The Hopper 3 now supports Amazon Alexa, so you can tell your Amazon Echo to turn on a show and the Hopper 3 will respond accordingly. It also comes with a remote-finder feature, and if you prefer commanding your DVR with your voice, you can do so.
One of the Hopper 3’s best features is its storage, which lets you record up to 16 shows at once. And, yes, you can skip commercials on select shows on the DVR, though your mileage may vary depending on the shows you watch.
If you want to watch your content in more places than home, one of your options is a Sling adapter. It plugs into your DVR and lets you access your programming via Dish’s Dish Anywhere service. It’s supported on smartphones and tablets.
Winner: Dish: Dish is the clear winner here. Its DVR is widely recognized as the best of the best, and DirecTV has no shot of keeping pace.
Apps and Mobile Access
As you might expect, Dish offers access to mobile apps that allow you to watch its programming anywhere you want to go.
Chief among those apps is Dish Anywhere, a program that runs on iOS and Android.
The free app runs on the device of your choice and allows you to access your DVR recordings from it. You can stream it over the web as long as you have a solid internet connection. Dish Anywhere doesn’t let you download video content.
Just as important, Dish Anywhere supports live and on-demand content, and you can schedule your DVR to record programs anywhere you are.
If you’d prefer to watch your content in the browser, you can also head on over to Dish’s Anywhere web page, where you can log in and stream content to your device of choice, sans app.
If you have the Hopper 2 or Hopper 3, Dish Anywhere is available at no additional cost.
Similarly, the DirecTV app is available as a free download from Apple’s App Store and Google Play, as well as the Amazon Fire tablets.
The free app allows you to stream both live and recorded programming to your mobile device without requiring additional equipment or incurring an extra cost.
However, like Dish’s service, certain channels and functionality might not be available, depending on the limitations certain networks and programming providers place on their content.
Winner: DirecTV: You can do just about the same stuff with either DirecTV or Dish’s app, and they both work well, but DirecTV takes the edge here because its ratings are higher. In the App Store, DirecTV’s app has earned a 3.5-star rating, topping Dish’s 3-star rating.
MORE: 17 Best TV Apps
Since AT&T owns DirecTV, it’s perhaps no surprise the company offers some rather interesting — and compelling — bundles.
For instance, you can get both DirecTV and AT&T Internet in one package for a starting price of $80. The offer includes your choice of DirecTV programming (see above for options) and internet speeds up to 50Mbps. You can also get access to AT&T’s Wi-Fi Hot Spot network at no additional charge.
If you want to add Home Phone to that, get ready to spend $90. Again, you’ll get television and internet, but also digital home phone service.
Finally, DirecTV offers a “DirecTV + AT&T Wireless” package when you have both a DirecTV and AT&T subscription. You’ll also get data-free streaming as part of the package. Pricing on it will vary, so you’ll need to call DirecTV to find out how much it’ll cost.
All prices are based on a two-year arrangement.
Dish is a bit of a different story. While the company does offer internet services, actually finding it can be a bit difficult.
Dish offers a tool where you can input your ZIP code to find out whether its internet service is available in your area. Where I live in New York, however, it’s not available. And the same goes when I input New York City ZIP codes.
However, when I input certain ZIP codes around major metropolitan areas, like Beverly Hills’ 90210, it was available. And it was offered there by three companies: Windstream, Frontier and TDS Telecom. The company also offers satellite internet, but it’s rather slow at speeds up to 25 Mbps.
If you’re lucky enough to have access to Dish Internet, you can expect a starting price of $50 a month.
Winner: DirecTV: It’s quite clear that the AT&T relationship is critical to DirecTV’s appeal here. With AT&T’s help, DirecTV can offer internet bundles across the country and trump Dish’s own bundles. If you’re looking for an all-in-one solution, DirecTV is your winner.
To determine how well-received Dish and DirecTV are among customers, we relied upon the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) for data. It’s a national survey of customers to determine their opinions about service providers.
DirecTV has held strong since the company was first analyzed by ACSI in 2001 and received a score of 70 out of a possible 100 points. For 2017, however, DirecTV scored a 68, a 2.9 percent drop, compared to its first year in the survey.
Dish kicked things off in 2001 with a score of 71 out of a possible 100. But it now finds itself just behind DirecTV with a score of 67. That’s down 5.6 percent compared to 2001, but consistent with its score since 2014.
Winner: DirecTV: DirecTV wins here — by a nose.
OVERALL WINNER: DirecTV
Although it was a hard-fought battle, DirecTV just squeaked by in our race, winning three races to Dish’s two. The companies tied in two other categories.
DirecTV shines when it comes to its exclusive NFL Sunday Ticket package, more channels and slightly better mobile app. This satellite provider also offers better bundle offers, especially if you’re an AT&T wireless customer, and it has a higher customer-satisfaction rating.
However, Dish offers more affordable pricing, a superior DVR and some pretty sweet perks of its own, including a free Amazon Echo Dot for controlling TV with your voice.
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Don Reisinger is CEO and founder of D2 Tech Agency. A communications strategist, consultant, and copywriter, Don has also written for many leading technology and business publications including CNET, Fortune Magazine, The New York Times, Forbes, Computerworld, Digital Trends, TechCrunch and Slashgear. He has also written for Tom's Guide for many years, contributing hundreds of articles on everything from phones to games to streaming and smart home.